What Is Castor Oil?
Castor oil, also known as eranda taila in Sanskrit, is a thick oil made from Ricinus communis, the castor bean. Here, we discuss the benefits of using castor oil along with its Ayurvedic applications.
Castor oil has been used therapeutically for centuries. The plant is native to East Africa and now grows widely in warm temperate and tropical regions throughout the world.
It is most widely recognized for its use as a stimulant laxative, however, it has many broader uses in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
The primary active constituent in eranda taila is ricinoleic acid, a monounsaturated, omega-9 fatty acid. This fatty acid is recognized for its topical moisturizing effects.
Other constituents in the oil include stearic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, linoleic acid, and dihydroxy stearic acid.
Ricin is a potent toxin naturally occurring in the castor bean, but it is removed in the processing of the bean to produce oil.
Ayurvedic Uses Of Castor Oil
Castor oil is considered to be heating when taken internally, and cooling when applied topically. It is administered both ways in Ayurvedic medicine for different conditions.
Castor oil is most commonly used as a virechana (stimulant laxative) in Ayurveda for purposes of cleansing within the context of panchakarma.
Castor oil may be taken in the days leading up to panchakarma for pre-cleansing purposes, or it may be taken within the course of a panchakarma treatment as a part of a purgation treatment protocol.
A virechana is a substance which induces the activity of apana vayu, the downward moving sub-dosha of Vata.
Apana vayu works particularly on the organs of elimination including the colon, bladder, and uterus.
Ricinoleic acid has been illuminated as the agent of virechana karma, as it is said to activate smooth muscles in the intestines as well as the uterus via EP3 prostanoid receptors.1
Gandharva haritaki is an Ayurvedic formula which includes castor oil and haritaki (terminalia chebula) as its primary ingredients.
It has a milder laxative action than pure eranda taila, and includes the benefits of the other carminative and Vata pacifying herbs in the formulation.
It is also used in the management of conditions involving Vata vrdddhi.
Ama Vata or rheumatoid arthritis is a condition in which castor oil is frequently employed in chikitsa.
In one case study, virechanakarma with eranda taila, alongside dietary and lifestyle changes showed “remarkable symptomatic relief in the features of Amavata.”2
Ginger tea with a teaspoon of castor oil taken nightly before bed is recommended due to its lightly heating, circulatory, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and gentle laxative properties.
Because the colon is the seat of Vata dosha, it is traditionally advised to treat the colon – either through virechana or basti – in cases where Vata systems of the body, including bone tissue, are affected.
Castor Oil Benefits
Castor oil, due to its thick and nourishing consistency and constituents has been employed for the treatment of a variety of skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
Castor oil can also benefit severely dry and cracked skin and can be used on the hair to moisturize, thicken and promote growth.
Finally, a drop of castor oil in each eye before bed can be helpful for dry, itchy eyes.
Castor oil has been shown to have antibacterial effects. In one study, taken in conjunction with ginger, castor oil was shown to reduce candida overgrowth.3
Eranda Taila Packs
Castor oil packs are another method whereby castor oil is applied topically.
To administer a castor oil pack, wool flannel is saturated with castor oil, placed on the body, and covered with a heat source, such as a hot water bottle.
The pack is then left on the body for 30-60 minutes while the oil absorbs into the skin.
These packs have traditionally been employed to assist in the breakdown of cysts, fibroids and benign tumors such as lipomas, as well as to relieve constipation, stimulate lymphatic circulation, alleviate dysmenorrhea and amenorrhea, support Vata-type digestion, reduce inflammation, reduce joint swelling and alleviate arthritic pain.
In addition to its known action on apana vayu, studies have shown castor oils effectiveness in inducing labor in postdate pregnancies.4
It is therefore advised to avoid internal use of eranda taila during pregnancy.
Please consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before using castor oil.
- Tunaru, Sorin, et al. “Castor Oil Induces Laxation and Uterus Contraction via Ricinoleic Acid Activating Prostaglandin EP3 Receptors.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, NAS, 5 June 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384204/.
- Gupta, Sanjay. “Management of Amavata (Rheumatoid Arthritis) with Diet and Virechanakarma.” Ayujournal, 2015.
- Valera, Marcia Carneiro, et al. “In Vitro Antimicrobial Activity of Auxiliary Chemical Substances and Natural Extracts on Candida Albicans and Enterococcus Faecalis in Root Canals.” Journal of Applied Oral Science: Revista FOB, Faculdade De Odontologia De Bauru Da Universidade De São Paulo, 2013.
- Gilad, Ronit, et al. “Castor Oil for Induction of Labor in Post-Date Pregnancies: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Women and Birth: Journal of the Australian College of Midwives, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2018.